Archive for July 25th, 2010

Twelve consecutive wins.  It wasn’t the first time the Atlanta Braves had done it, but the last time had been 10 long years ago, when the miracle season of 1982 had begun with 13 straight victories.  And in between, there had been a string of terrible seasons which featured some awful pitching, poor defense, and ultimately, 3-digit numbers in the “loss” column.

But 1991 had seen another miracle.  The Braves, picked by every expert to finish last, had not only finished first in the NL West, they had come within a Jack Morris masterpiece of winning the one of the best World Series ever.  And 1992 was shaping up for much the same result.

For twelve straight nights in the heat of July, the Braves had taken the win…but on this Saturday evening (which happened to be July 25, 1992), the win streak was in jeopardy against the visiting Pirates.  Don’t laugh.  Yeah, the Pirates aren’t very good right now, but that was not the case in 1992.  Their lineup featured a young star named Barry Bonds, who was just entering his prime.  The ever-consistent Andy Van Slyke, the defensive wizard Jose Lind, and a very good rotation anchored by Doug Drabek.

I say the win was in jeopardy even though the Braves were leading going into the 9th inning.  Braves starter Charlie Liebrandt had spun his magic for eight innings, baffling the Pirates hitters and giving up just four hits.  On the Pirates side, Danny Jackson had been just as effective, giving up but one hit, a second-inning solo homerun to David Justice.

In the ninth, Braves closer Alejandro Pena took the hill and, after getting a quick out, gave up a single to Jay Bell.  Up stepped Andy Van Slyke and the lefty drove a fastball high into the steamy Atlanta night and deep into Altanta Fulton County Stadium’s right-center field.  Back it went, clearing the 10-foot wall by nearly a foot, slicing into Atlanta’s winning streak like a dagger.

But Otis Nixon wasn’t going to let that ball hit the ground without a fight.  The fleet-footed Altanta center-fielder, known more for his prowess on the basepaths than his stellar defense, tracked the ball to the track, then to the wall.  It was then that one of the most magical moments in Braves history occured.  Nixon leaped, dug his left foot into the wall, and launched himself upwards, one foot higher than the wall, where he speared Van Slyke’s homerun as it headed for the ground behind the wall.  He landed, planted himself, and launched a throw toward first, nearly doubling up Jay Bell.

Not that his throw to first really mattered…there was bedlam in the stadium.  Right-fielder David Justice ran to Nixon with his arms over his head in joy and disbelief.  Braves announcer Skip Caray, who never hid his emotions, was ecstatic.  The call was nearly as memorable as what came to be known simply as “The Catch”…“There’s a drive, deep right-center field…Nixon goes as far as he can go…he caught the ball!!…he caught the ball!!!…I can’t believe it!!  What a catch by Otis Nixon!!  He took a homerun away…”.

The electricity in the Stadium was hardly matched by that flowing through my one-bedroom apartment as I watched Nixon’s unforgettable catch on my 13-inch television (on loan from my parents).  But there was plenty of excitement for one that evening.  As a Braves fan, it was a fantastic moment.

Pena was lifted and a young lefty named Kent Mercker would come in and polish off Barry Bonds to preserve the 1-0 win…the thirteenth in a row for the Braves.  The day game played little more than 12 hours later would see the Pirates halt the winning streak at 13, but again, the buzz was all about The Catch.

Up to this point, it was “the play” of the 1992 season.  But there were more memorable nights in store for Braves fans, including one of the most incredible turnabouts ever.  It again involved the Pirates, but it’s for another time.  We’ll chat it up sometime..oh…October or thereabouts.

Recommended Viewing:  The Catch – What else?

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